For years, whenever I would talk about adulthood, my family and older peers would instantly shut me down.
“You’re too young to understand,” they’d say. “Wait until you get into the real world.”
I heard it from uncles and aunts, teachers and adults, even my mom. All of them would express the same sentiment, which irritated me to no end, especially in my teen years when any newfound independence was a sign of living in the weathered world of adults.
I was experiencing the “real world” and it was hard, I told them. This was my mental mantra throughout high school and my first years of college, and I was convinced I was right.
However, after moving off campus this semester, I began to understand why adults were so adamant that I hadn’t quite experienced the woes that came with adulthood, at least not yet.
There’s no wake-up call into the “real world” like walking into your first apartment and being greeted by leftover maggot-infested mattress toppers in your living room.
It dawned on me, then, in between hand-scrubbing unidentifiable gunk off my walls and cowering in my bedroom after spying a grotesquely large spider in the kitchen, how rosy (and juvenile) my life had been before.
I may have minded myself as a full-fledged grown-up then, but my freshman and sophomore years of college now appear to me as adulthood on easy mode.
I had the luxury of living in the dorms (“luxury” being a word I wouldn’t have dared to use to describe the Governors and Ellicott Complexes just six months ago).
There, it was easy to forget how catered my life was, especially with school becoming a mounting pressure. My bathrooms, though shared, were cleaned daily by a janitor; I had a meal plan, so getting food consisted of, at most, a short walk to the Student Union for a meal prepared by someone else; if I saw any kind of terrifying bug, I could call on friends or even an RA to come kill it for me.
That’s not to say those first two years were a breeze, that college life isn’t part of this “real world” that only parents and older relatives seem to exist in and can complain about. Nor is it to say that I didn’t understand that these conveniences I had were just that — conveniences to be grateful for.
It’s only to say that campus living provides a protective bubble from many of the problems in the non-collegiate world.
When you move off-campus, your responsibilities quickly heighten and vary. While your first year or two in college are probably spent learning to balance classes, work, extracurriculars and a social life, moving off-campus forces you to do all that with the added bonus of scheduling grocery store trips, meal-prepping, creating chore charts with your roommates and looking for the cheapest gas prices for your 40-minute round-trip commute, among other things.
It can become overwhelming fast, especially when confronted with new “adult” issues like paying your rent on time, navigating slippery landlords and spending three hours on your internet service provider’s helpline as you desperately try to set-up Wi-Fi.
For some students, especially those who had to take on these kinds of responsibilities from a young age, this transition will not be the coming-of-age transformation as it has been for myself. But many other college students will undoubtedly find that living off-campus is one of the first times they have truly had to take care of themselves, in every sense and aspect of their life.
It’s rewarding, as much as it is daunting, to suddenly find yourself independent of parents, RAs, or whomever else has been helping to make your adult life that much easier and structured. It’s also one of the last first steps in forming and handling yourself as an adult in the “real world” (which, in my belief, we have all been living in since we were born).
Living off campus is a way to learn new areas and problems that come with existing as an independent adult; it makes you privy to the more minute and ordinary challenges that jaded people like to think defines the “real world.” It can be hard, but it’s necessary and refreshing from so many years spent in adolescence.
So, for all those who have taken this step, congratulations, and welcome to true(r) adulthood.
Kara Anderson is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org